PhD candidate Luna K.C. describes how the Nepal earthquake destroyed her house on 25 April and how she now shares an improvised, leaking tent with twenty people.
Text: Luna K.C., PhD candidate at the Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction Chair Group of Wageningen University
25 April 2015, 11:56, the moment my beautiful country was hit by a 7.9 Richter scale earthquake and Nepalese people’s dreams were crushed.
At the time, I was on the 3rd story of a building arranging things and chatting to my mother, when suddenly we felt the shake. The shake was so heavy that I was not able to run properly and I fell down four times. I hurt my knees, my mother and father got badly injured, did not get the chance to leave the building and got locked in. For me and the rest of my family this was the first experience with the earthquake.
There is a very infamous saying in my language 'When bad luck comes it comes with a shower'. As soon as the earthquake hit, everyone was fleeing and looking for open space. Some got stuck inside houses, some were crying and screaming, assuming this day was their last day. Although I was wounded I somehow reached an open space. There were already thousands of people gathering and praying for their lives. But shortly after the earthquake, there was a heavy storm. Together with the people around me I was just standing still during the heavy rainfall and thunder storm. There were no umbrellas, raincoats, tents. We had literally nothing to protect us from the rain.
When I looked in the direction of the neighbouring village called Bugmati, I saw huge clouds of smoke coming our way. I first thought it was a fire but later realized that it was dust produced by ruined buildings. 90% of the buildings were destroyed and many people were killed.
Because we were not prepared for this earthquake, we did not have a tent to sleep in. A tent became crucial because it was the only place for shelter. Moreover, we received the official announcement not to go near or inside buildings until we got the next update. Thus there was no question of sleeping inside the house. My main objective after the earthquake became how to get a tent and how to spend the first night. Other things like food, clothes, internet or a computer did not cross my mind. But while the whole country was hit by such a huge disaster no shops were open to buy a tent.
One of my neighbours luckily said he had a big plastic cover for his car that we could use as a tent for the first night. This was the best news ever. I hoped the tent would protect us from storms during the night. Twenty people shared this plastic car cover used as a tent. At night we spread out two dirty bedsheets. Thankfully we had those, as the ground was sticky and muddy because of the rain. At midnight there was another rain shower and the tent had various holes so we all got wet. But no one complained. Most of us slept with hungry stomachs. I remember how children were crying for food but everyone was quite patient and awaiting of what would happen next.
I knew that the tent would be my shelter for the coming weeks. There was no money to spend, not a single bottle of water to drink, not a single bite to eat, no warm clothes during the cold nights, no medicine and the government was absent. Due to our resilience we could cope with this unexpected disaster.
The next day a few of my neighbours called the shopkeeper and asked him to open his shop for a few minutes. Although entering buildings was strictly prohibited, he took a huge risk by opening the shop so we were able to obtain the necessary things. Of course no one had money so we borrowed the goods from the shopkeeper. I appreciate his generosity, otherwise we would have starved without food and water.
Something else I noticed is that disasters do not make a distinction between rich or poor, traditional or modern, developing or developed. They hit everyone. While staying in our tent I noticed my rich neighbours who owned western cars, lived in large buildings, owned iPads and iPhones and never spoke to normal people like me. We were suddenly all sharing the same torn and dirty tent.
Life inside the tent became collective. We cooked and ate together and shared news about the death toll and the number of damaged buildings. This kept our minds occupied and we always wanted to know news about the earthquake. We even wanted to hear the rumours.
The earthquake and the aftermath created a lot of fear. Even when the wind moved things, it felt like an earthquake. And there are lots of aftershocks, too. My mother is particularly still traumatized due to the ongoing shakes.
Nepalese people were not prepared for this earthquake. This is what the death and destruction rate tells us. The disaster was beyond the capacity of the Nepalese government. Especially with the help of local NGO’ s, local youth, international humanitarian organization and friends abroad lives in Nepal were saved.
Luna K.C. wrote this article on 11 May. Another massive earthquake (7.3 on the Richter scale) hit Nepal on 12 May.